Archives for category: Freedom of Speech

A reader, Nancy Papat, read Pastor Chartes Foster Johnson’s article about Governor Gregg Abbott’s campaign against pornography in the schools and school libraries. She concluded that the Bible is a dangerous book because it contains sexual innuendoes, violence, and even anti-capitalist propaganda (like driving the money-changers from the Temple).

She posted this comment:

By this standard, schools will have to remove the Holy Bible from school libraries.

* There is much too much sex – that story of David and Bathsheba is for mature audiences only

*There are stories of slavery and abuse which might make some children feel bad because that could be interpreted as Critical Race Theory.

*Then there is the story about Mary and Joseph fleeing Bethlehem for Egypt to protect baby Jesus after the King ordered the killing of male babies. Doesn’t that glorify and even deify refugees?

*Jesus threw moneychangers out of the Temple which could raise questions about wealthy pastors of mega-churches in Texas. Is that anti-religion for a state like Texas? [It is also critical of capitalism.]

*Years later, Jesus himself suffered the gory, torturous death of crucifixion. Clearly the Bible has too much sex, violence, and dangerous political statements for the state of Texas and its students.

Then there is the question of whether Mary and Joseph were married when she got pregnant. If God was the father of Jesus, not Joseph, this raises more questions.

Have you read any licentious or subversive text in the Bible? Please add to her list.

Surely this dangerous book should not be read by children!

Yes, you read that right. The astroturf Koch-funded “Moms for Liberty” is offering a $500 reward to anyone who catches a teacher teaching “divisive concepts,” which is against state law. What is a divisive concept? Maybe teaching about the First Amendment is one. Teaching about the horrors of war is another. Teaching about the effects of climate change, for sure. Teaching that vaccines save lives is another so don’t talk about polio or other diseases, certainly not coronavirus.

Randi Weingarten spoke out:

For Immediate Release
Nov. 18, 2021

Contact:
Janet Bass
                            jbass@aft.org
                            301-502-5222


Statement by AFT President Randi Weingarten on
Bounties on Heads of NH Teachers

WASHINGTON—Statement by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on a $500 bounty offered by Moms for Liberty to someone who alleges a New Hampshire teacher is teaching so-called divisive concepts and breaking the New Hampshire law called Right to Freedom from Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education:

“Putting bounties on the heads of New Hampshire teachers, much like the controversial vigilante bounties envisioned by Texas law to thwart the legal right to reproductive choice, is offensive and chilling in any context. The New Hampshire bounty effort is a result of a state law that bans something that doesn’t happen in New Hampshire or anywhere else—teaching that any group is inherently superior or inferior to another. We teach honest history and respect for all. Culture warriors offering bounties for a teacher supposedly violating the law are doing this at a time when we all need to work together. The stakes are high—unjustified accusations against teachers could cost them their teaching licenses. The clear intent is to undermine public education and scare teachers. 
 
“State Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut even set up a webpage to facilitate complaints against teachers. Perhaps Edelblut’s judgment should lead him to a different line of work. We need school leadership that believes in safe and welcoming environments, not one of fear and division. This is distracting from teachers’ focus on helping our kids thrive and excel. Teachers shouldn’t have to worry that history, literature, science or art lessons can be misconstrued and lead to a public flogging or worse. The overwhelming majority of parents support and trust their children’s teachers, value their neighborhood public school as the center of the community and are astounded by this brazen attempt to stifle learning. 

“Parents and teachers are partners in supporting children. Teachers work very hard to help our children through tough times like the pandemic and now to get them back on track. We should do everything we can to support them, not put a price on their head.”

# # #

As part of the Republican effort to eliminate teaching about slavery, racism, and other injustices, the state has banned “critical race theory” and requires teaching “both sides” of controversies.

In the Carroll Independent School District, teachers were told that if they teach about the Holocaust in Europe, they must teach “the other side.” Understandably, teachers were confused. Are they supposed to give equal time to the genocide of millions of men, women, and children, and those who say that the genocide never occurred? When they teach about slavery, must they give equal time to the atrocities of enslavement and to apologists who say that slavery was benign?

Teachers in a Texas city have been told that if they have a book on the Holocaust in their classroom, they should also have one that offers an “opposite” view.

A school head’s instruction to staff in Southlake, which is 26 miles northwest of Dallas, was secretly captured on an audio recording obtained by NBC News.

Gina Peddy, executive director of the Carroll Independent School District, spoke during a training session on what books teachers can keep in classroom libraries.

It came four days after the Carroll school board, in response to a parent’s complaint, voted to reprimand a teacher who had an anti-racism book in her classroom.

In the recording, Ms. Peddy told staff to “remember the concepts” of a new state law that requires teachers to present different points of view when discussing “widely debated and currently controversial” topics.

Referring specifically to the Nazi genocide of six million Jews in wartime, he said: “And make sure if you have a book on the holocaust that you have one that has an opposite, that has other perspectives. “

In response, a teacher said, “How do you oppose the Holocaust?”

Mrs. Peddy told them, “Trust me. That has come up.”

Speaking later, a teacher from Carroll told NBC News: “Teachers literally fear that we will be punished for having books in our classes.

“There are no children’s books that show the ‘opposite perspective’ of the Holocaust or the ‘opposite perspective’ of slavery.

“Are we supposed to get rid of all the books on those topics?”

Another teacher hung caution tape in front of books in a classroom after the new guidelines were distributed.

In a statement issued following Ms. Peddy’s comments, Carroll’s spokeswoman Karen Fitzgerald said the district was trying to help teachers comply with the new state law and an updated version that will take effect in December.

Subsequently, the district superintendent publicly apologized.

As the Superintendent, I express my sincere apology regarding the online article and news story. During the conversations with teachers, comments made were in no way to convey the Holocaust was anything less than a terrible event in history.

This statement does not explain how Texas teachers can teach both sides of every issue. There is no doubt that the purpose of the law is to make teachers fearful of teaching anything about racism or any other atrocities that are matters of fact.

New Hampshire’s Republican legislature passed a bill banning teaching about racism, and Governor Chris Sununu signed it. The bill also included funding for vouchers and cuts for public schools.

Ten of the 17 members of the governor’s Diversity Council resigned in protest, citing censorship.

“It should not be taken lightly that nearly every member of the Council that is not part of your administration is resigning today, as we collectively see no path forward with this legislation in place,” the resigning members wrote in their letter to Sununu. The group includes the executive director of the New Hampshire ACLU, educators, doctors and children’s advocates. 

Sununu established the council in 2017, with a mission to “combat discrimination and advance the ends of diversity and inclusion.” 

Last week, he signed House Bill 2, a policy-focused “trailer bill” that passed along party lines in the GOP-controlled legislature. Among other provisions, the legislation bars public schools and government employees from teaching about systemic racism and bias. It also bans abortions beyond 24 weeks gestation, with exceptions only to save the life of the mother. Doctors who perform those abortions could face up to seven years in prison. 

State Rep. Jim Maggiore (D) told HuffPost that he voted against the bill because he “could not in good conscience support language restricting the free speech of Granite Staters.” He was one of the 10 council members who quit Tuesday. 


https://www.huffpost.com/entry/new-hampshire-governor-chris-sununu-diversity-council-protest-resign_n_60db5e93e4b0b9e497df733d

The big battle this coming year in the Texas Legislature is about whether public agencies will be allowed to lobby for their interests. No one argues that private interests should be banned from advocating for what they want. Only public agencies—like public schools—would be banned because they use public money.

You can see where this is going. Supporters of public institutions would be gagged and censored, but promoters of privatization would be free to wine and dine legislators.

The Dallas Morning News tells both sides of the story here.

The issue, which has been dubbed “taxpayer-funded lobbying” by supporters and “community censorship” by its detractors, is a major divider between traditional Republicans — particularly those in rural areas who support public schools and their local county governments — and hard-line conservatives who see it as wasteful spending by local officials.

Local officials and the organizations that represent them — like the Texas Association for Counties, the Texas Municipal League and the Texas Association of School Boards — say such a lobbying ban would hurt local jurisdictions and make it more expensive for them to advocate for their constituents. They say the ban is nothing more than an effort to silence the voices of local officials.

Democrats and some Republicans banded together to block the bill last year. That vote resulted in House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and one of his top lieutenants, Rep. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock, meeting with conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan to target several fellow Republicans who voted against the bill.

The scandal forced Bonnen into early retirement and Burrows had to resign as chairman of the House Republican Caucus. Nonetheless, the bill’s backers say it will return next session.

Arch conservatives claim that cities, counties, public schools, and other public agencies should not be allowed to use taxpayer money to defend the public interest. Profiteers, buccaneers, entrepreneurs, and raiders of the public treasury would be allowed to lobby with no restraints.

Just one more loathsome effort to cripple the public interest by Governor Abbott and his allies.



Hong Kong was a British colony for a century and a half. Under British rule, the people of Hong Kong enjoyed democratic freedoms. On July 1, 1997, the British relinquished control and Hong Kong became part of China as a special administrative region. The Chinese government promised to maintain “one country, two systems.” Over the years the Chinese government has asserted tighter control, inspiring rebellions among the people of Hong Kong, who resisted absorption into the government of the Mainland. Twenty-three years after the removal of British rule, mainland China is clamping down, hard, to stamp out freedom of speech, freedom of thought, even freedom to teach.

This article in the Los Angeles Times describes the government’s tightening of control over teachers and textbooks. Teachers who dare to speak out have been purged.

One of the greatest threats to freedom in Hong Kong is China’s intensifying pressure on schools over what to put in the minds of students. Textbooks are being rewritten, teachers are being purged and history is being erased under a new national security law to bring this once freewheeling city more firmly into China’s grip…

With China’s tightening control over Hong Kong, including passage of a new national security law, the territory’s pro-democracy activists, politicians, journalists and others are facing a Communist Party determined to crush dissent. Perhaps the greatest threat from this new purge — one that will affect generations to come — is the increasing pressure on schools and teachers over what to put in the minds of students. Both activists and bureaucrats know that a nation’s soul is distilled in the classroom; history can be erased with the silencing of teachers and rewriting of textbooks.

A Hong Kong art teacher who calls himself Vawongsir expresses his thoughts through pro-democracy doodles.
A Hong Kong art teacher going by the name Vawongsir expresses his thoughts through pro-democracy doodles, which he shares online anonymously. He lost his teaching job after a complaint was made to the authorities.(Chan Long Hei / For The Times)
“They are turning education into a tool for controlling thought in Hong Kong,” said Ip Kin-yuen, a pro-democracy lawmaker representing the education sector who is vice president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union. “There are a lot of cases of teachers being wronged, facing exaggerated accusations. I would describe it as political persecution.”

Hong Kong is being remade before the world. Chinese leader Xi Jinping is capitalizing on his country’s economic power and the planet’s preoccupation with the coronavirus to rein in Hong Kong’s democratic ambitions. Xi wants to subsume this defiant territory into his vision of national unity, even as China faces diplomatic fallout, most notably from the Trump administration, which has drawn closer to a new Cold War with Beijing in a fraught time of high-tech surveillance, shifting supply chains and America’s fallen stature of a global leader.

Veterans of the political struggles of the 1960s explain in this open letter published in The Nation why they will vote for Joe Biden. In my view, anyone who opposes racism, fascism, and the dominance of the fanatical religious right should vote for Biden.

The letter begins:

On April 13, 2020, Senator Bernie Sanders urged his supporters to vote for the presumptive Democratic nominee, former vice president Joe Biden. Writing as founders and veterans of the leading New Left organization of the 1960s, Students for a Democratic Society, we welcome Bernie’s wise choice—but we are gravely concerned that some of his supporters, including the leadership of Democratic Socialists of America, refuse to support Biden, whom they see as a representative of Wall Street capital. Some of us are DSA members, but do not believe their position is consistent with a long-range vision of democracy, justice, and human survival.

Now it is time for all those who yearn for a more equal and just social order to face facts. All of us have charged for years that Trump is the leader of an authoritarian party that aims for absolute power; rejects climate science; embraces racism, sexism, homophobia, and violence; holds the democratic process in contempt; bids to take over the entire federal judiciary; represses voting rights; and violates plain human decency on many fronts. These are the grounds for our solemn determination: A common effort to unseat him is our high moral and political responsibility.

In our time, we fought—for a time successfully—against the sectarian politics of the Cold War. We were mindful then of the cataclysm that befell German democracy when socialists and communists fought each other—to death—as Hitler snuck by and then murdered them all.

Now we fear that some on the left cannot see the difference between a capitalist democrat and a protofascist. We hope none of us learn this difference from jail cells.

We have dedicated much of our lives to the fight to extend democracy to more people, more institutions, more places. We continue this work in diverse ways motivated now as then by a spirit of community and solidarity. But now the very existence of American democracy is in jeopardy.

Some of us think “endorsing” Joe Biden is a step too far; but we who now write this open letter all know that we must work hard to elect him. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment.

Open the link and read the rest of the letter.

I note that my good friend Mike Klonsky, who was National Secretary of SDS in 1968, decided not to sign the letter. You can read his reasons here, but he too will vote for Biden, because, as he writes:

In my view, Trump and Trumpism represent the most reactionary political force in the world today and the most immediate and serious threat to peace and human freedom in the post-WWII era.

Tactically, I’m taking my cues mainly from leading progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders who, to one degree or another, are supporting Biden’s election as a way of defeating Trump and pushing forward our progressive agenda.

Masha Gessen, a Russian emigre and journalist, always has interesting commentaries on U.S. politics.

In this New Yorker article, she writes about Mark Zuckerberg and his flawed interpretation of the First Amendment.

In the course of the article, she reveals a startling fact. Zuckerberg is advising Mayor Pete.

Gessen writes:

What is the First Amendment for? I ask my students this every year. Every year, several people quickly respond that the First Amendment guarantees Americans the right to speak without restriction. True, I say, but what is it for? It’s so that Congress doesn’t pass a law that would limit the right to free speech, someone often says. Another might add that, in fact, the government does place some limits on free speech—you can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theatre, or say certain words on broadcast television and radio. I ask the question a third time: What is the First Amendment for? There is a pause as students realize that I am asking them to shift their frame of reference. Then someone says that the First Amendment is for democracy, for the plurality of opinions in the national conversation.

My students are undergraduates, some of whom will become journalists. Before they leave the confines of their small liberal-arts college, they will develop a more complicated view of politics and the media than the one they started with. The adult world they are entering, however, generally sticks to an elemental level of discourse. Last week, for example, the head of the country’s largest media company, Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook, gave a nearly forty-minute lecturein which he reiterated that the right to free speech was invented so that it wouldn’t be restricted. In Zuckerberg’s narrative, as my colleague Andrew Marantz has written, freedom of speech, guaranteed by technological progress, is the beginning and the end of the conversation; this narrative willfully leaves out the damage that technological progress—and unchallenged freedom of all speech—can inflict. But the problem isn’t just Zuckerberg; more precisely, Zuckerberg is symptomatic of our collective refusal to think about speech and the media in complicated ways.

People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world,” Zuckerberg said in his address. “It’s a fifth estate, alongside the other power structures in our society.” Zuckerberg was appropriating a countercultural term: beginning in the nineteen-sixties, “the fifth estate” referred to alternative media in the United States. Now the head of a new-media monopoly was using the term to differentiate Facebook from the news media, presumably to bolster his argument that Facebook should not be held to the same standards of civic responsibility to which we hold the fourth estate.

This strategy of claiming not to be the media has worked well for Facebook. On Monday, when Bloomberg broke the news that Zuckerberg has advised the Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg on campaign hires, the story called Zuckerberg “one of tech’s most powerful executives.” CNN referred to him and his wife, Priscilla Chan, as “two of America’s most influential businesspeople and philanthropists.” Vox’s Recode vertical calledhim “the world’s third-richest person” and observed that he had become so toxic that “accepting a political donation from Mark Zuckerberg in 2020 is nowhere close to worth the money.” (The Times appears not to have covered the story for now.) Any one of these frames makes for an important and troubling story: a Presidential campaign in bed with a major tech corporation, influenced by and possibly intertwined with one of the country’s richest men—that is bad. It’s worse when one recalls Buttigieg’s attempts to go after Elizabeth Warren during last week’s Democratic debate. Warren has called for breaking up Facebook’s social-media monopoly, and Zuckerberg has referred to Warren as an “existential” threat to the company. Now imagine if it were the head of ABC or CNN or the New York Times Company who had served as an informal hiring consultant to a Presidential candidate. It would almost certainly be a bigger story and more broadly perceived as troublesome. Most of us still believe that the media are an essential component of democracy, and that a media outlet that is partisan or committed to a single candidate, but not in a transparent way, is a bad democratic actor.

Sarah Sparks writes in Edweek about a curriculum company that is suing a parent in Wake County, North Carolina, for criticizing its math program. The company says the parent is defaming its product. The parent’s lawyer says the company is attacking the parent’s First Amendment rights.

As the story notes, this is a SLAPP suit, a suit meant to silence public criticism. The last time I encountered this sort of thing was when a charter company filed a suit against a school board member in California for negative criticism. The ACLU came to her defense. It should defend this parent too, who is using his Constitutional right to disagree with a program adopted by his district.

A group of families in Wake County, N.C., have pushed for months to get the district to stop using a controversial new curriculum. Now the company behind the curriculum is suing one of the most vocal parents for defamation.

It’s a surprising move that some say could have broad implications for parent advocacy around curriculum and instruction. A win by the company “would certainly cast a shadow on the idea that parents have a right to participate in their own children’s education, to criticize schools for buying particular textbooks, to voice their concerns about instruction and curriculum,” said Tom Loveless, an education researcher formerly at the Brookings Institution, who is not involved in the case.

The Mathematics Vision Project, a nonprofit provider of open source math curricula, filed a complaint this summer against Blain Dillard, a parent in the Wake County public school system. MVP has accused Dillard, an outspoken opponent of the math program, of libel, slander, and “tortious interference with business relations.”

The company alleges that Dillard has launched “a crusade against MVP” through his online criticism of the curriculum and advocacy with school officials and employees.

In a written statement to Education Week, Jeffrey Hunt, Dillard’s lawyer, wrote that the lawsuit “has no legal merit.”

“It is alarming that a parent would be sued for defamation for expressing opinions and making truthful statements about his son’s high school math curriculum,” Hunt said. “The lawsuit appears to be an attempt to silence Mr. Dillard and other critics of MVP, and to chill their First Amendment rights to speak about MVP’s services.”

The district is entering its third year using the MVP curriculum, which received a favorable evaluation from the curriculum reviewer EdReports. The open source curriculum emphasizes problem-solving and collaboration—students learn by working through problems, and teachers are expected to act as facilitators.

For months now, parents have spoken out against lessons that they say are confusing and poorly structured, lodging complaints with the district and making statements at school board meetings. Parents said their children weren’t getting enough direct instruction and were encouraged to rely on their classmates for help. As a result, they said, students who used to get As and Bs were now getting Cs and Ds, which would have long-lasting effects on their grade point averages and college prospects.

Barbara Kuehl, an author and consultant at MVP, said that the organization’s materials encourage a variety of methods. “Our curriculum not only supports well-timed direct instruction, we advocate for it,” she said. Kuehl declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing pending litigation.

Pushback from parents over a new curriculum, and particularly a discovery-based program, is nothing new, said Loveless.

“There have been all kinds of programs that have been oriented around that philosophy, and they have been quite controversial,” Loveless said.

What is new? A curriculum provider suing parents over such complaints.

 

 

 

Teresa Hanafin writes the Boston Globe’s Daily “Fast Forward” to start each day.

Today she wrote:

Trump is making America hate again.

At his North Carolina campaign rally last night, Trump lashed out at Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar — a US citizen who was a refugee from Somalia as a child. His supporters, predominantly white, started chanting and shouting, “SEND HER BACK!” Kaitlan Collins of CNN reported that Trump “paused a moment to let that chant grow some momentum.”

This is really ugly, folks.

As Tim Miller, former aide to Jeb Bush,tweeted: “Imagine how this video of the President leading a white mob in a ‘Send Her Back’ chant targeting a black refugee is going to look in your kids’ high school government/history classes.”

Former Obama speechwriter (and Mass. native) Jon Favreau wrote, “The crowd at Trump’s rally chanting “send her back” after the President viciously and dishonestly attacked Ilhan Omar is one of the most chilling and horrifying things I’ve ever seen in politics.”

Note the word “dishonestly.” It refers to the lies Trump told about Omar during his speech, lies that are widely circulating on the right. For example, Omar never said, “You say ‘al-Qaida,’ it makes you proud.” But this is Trumpville, where the truth goes to die.

Get ready for a 2020 campaign that is even more hate-filled and divisive than what Trump spewed in 2016.

Omar responded on Twitter with an excerpt from Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” poem:

   You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Is it just me or will Trump’s crowd soon start chanting: “Sig Heil!”????